Across these texts, gazing or looking at “the other” is central. The gaze is represented in passing in different ways but I want to focus on passing/colorism and how it is shown in the readings. Passing (in contest of Harlem Renaissance) Typically involves a person of Black/African American descent appears to be white claiming to be white, and Colorism is Preference for lighter skin typically within a group. In Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference? “According to Monks, colorism has its roots in plantation life. The lighter-skinned “house negroes” were granted benefits that their darker-skinned colleagues, who were frequently consigned to working in the fields, were not. Many lighter-skinned slaves were also the children of their slave masters, and because of their lighter complexions, they began to absorb the belief that they were more privileged or valuable than their darker counterparts. This split deepened over time and had real-world ramifications. Working in the house, according to Monk, “dramatically boosted the likelihood of lighter-skinned Black individuals (or mulattos) becoming literate and trained in a trade.” In addition, lighter-skinned Black and mulatto people made up the large bulk of the free Black population. Despite the fact that additional chances opened up for Black people of various colors following Emancipation, the significant social, educational, and economic advantages of lighter-skinned Black people unquestionably provided these Black people an enormous head start over all other Black people.” This set in motion a cycle that continues to this day. In Passing by Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston’s play Color Struck we can see just that we see how Clare and Emma acted towards this.
Starting Passing in the first passage where it starts by talking about the letter, the gaze here refers to how Irene is looking at it because of how much it stood out compared to the rest, this also captures a close reading aspect because of the symbolism used and how Clare’s letter to Irene and goes into to much detail describing it, how it’s elegant in its long envelope of Italian paper and how it seem out of place compared to the rest in the stack. (this can even foreshadow Clare’s life of how she is out of place in her race)this shows Clare’s new life compared to what irene knew how now it is fancy or glamorous. Another point in the reading that captures this gaze is with the “Hello, Nig, was his greeting to Clare”(pg 66). Referring to Jack and how he greets his own wife. Then where it talks about how She(Irene) sat there and caught her lip between her teeth and sat gazing at husband and wife as if she was holding back saying is this really happening? is Clare letting her husband, an outsider mock her race. This is where we can put how passing is shown in the reading because even though Clare passes for white, jack recalls how her complexion has changed over time “When we were first married, she was as white as-as-well as white as a lily. But I declare she’s gettin’ darker and darker. I tell her if she doesn’t look out, she’ll wake up one of these days and find she’s turned into a nigger.”(67) there’s another quote further down in the passage that really captures the gaze “Irene’s lips trembled almost uncontrol- ably, but she made a desperate effort to fight back her disastrous desire to laugh again, she turned an oblique look on Clare and encountered her peculiar eyes fixed on her with an expression so dark and deep and unfathomable that she had for a short moment the sensation of gazing into the eyes of some creature utterly strange and apart. (69) This is referring to what jack had just mentioned before “No niggers in my family. Never have been and never will be”(68) and how the gaze they gave each other is like they’re saying if only he knew.
Similarly, how in Zora Neale Hurston’s play Color Struck we have Emma, who has a darker complexion, is envious of Effie, who has pale skin,. Emma believes her boyfriend John is captivated by Effie because of her lighter skin. In scene two during the cakewalk, Effie offers Emma and John a piece of her blueberry pie, but Emma declines. Emma throws Effie a cold gaze as she walks away, This gaze right here can be seen as back away or as to say John is mine back off. To this Emma accuses John of “carryin’ on wit dat punkin-colored ole gal.”(pg 10) and john states how he only did this because Emma did not act polite.
This is showing how this gaze is also carried out in other readings we even see how the gaze shows a message about how Emma’s eyes are filled with envy and desire. She is terrified of losing John, she is constantly aware of their presence whenever he is in their sight. Emma’s notion that half-whites “get it all” this can show that its more of a watchful rather than a desirable gaze. she believes, that Light-skinned women, are not only to be admired but also to be feared. We can even compare this to passing and how Clare passing in a way makes sense because to survive you have to be hiding in plain sight passing can lead to getting access to that wealth.
While reading the Opportunity by Charles Johnson, the passages that stood out to me were The Corner By Eunice Hunton Carter and The High Cost of Keeping the Negro Inferior By John C. Wright because of the way perspective is utilized in each passage to explain the subtle and not so subtle wealth and class disparities in and outside of Harlem, and how such disparities are influenced by race and blinded outsiders on how rich not only Harlem’s culture was but the culture of black people in general
In Carter’s The Corner, from the very beginning and throughout we can see a stark contrast in the lifestyles the narrator describes. In the very first paragraph, the narrator states, “My friend lives in the house on the corner. She lives high above the street in a doll’s house of white enamel and soft blues with lovely old furniture and oriental rugs of faded brilliance on dark polished floors; in a miniature home with a real fireplace and polished grasses and flowers all about in crystal bowls (Carter 114).” This vivid description is given to us from the viewpoint of the narrator who then goes through the rest of her day seeing one by one how the cars commute from Harlem to seek pleasures and entertainment and back to the suburbs located in the city. She goes on to then compare and kind of even scold the “aliens” who passed through, and reflect on how even though the night was coming to an end the city was still alive with people, sounds, and lights. She was particularly critical of how the “aliens” moved so fast that they were missing out on what was happening right in front of them, “the young boy in the corner dancing and singing the man without legs wheeled himself along on a wooden platform and with an instrument or two gave the effect of a whole brass band (Carter 114),” and how even to this day we still see this happening with street performers.
Another example that demonstrates this is the first modern jazz band to ever be heard in New York City. They played and sang in a dancing orchestra at The Marshall in Harlem and became the first to make use of banjos, saxophones, clarinets, and trap drums in combination to create what we now know as jazz. Comparing this to the Survey Graphic: Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro, “The Making of Harlem,” by James Weldon Johnson he talks about how Harlem is a “city within a city,” and how “a stranger is struck with surprise at the transformation which takes place after he crosses One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street (Johnson 635).” He uses such a marker, as does Carter when she compares the house above to the street below to signal how different and unique Harlem was to the rest of the city at the time, especially illustrating how easily communities can change from just turning a corner or crossing a bridge.
The High Cost of Keeping the Negro Inferior By John C. Wright (p. 116) also stood out to me because of how he discusses and analyzes that because people in the south have these views and prejudices towards black people, basically caricaturing them, and how this perspective also with the years of generation after generation being taught this same information that the majority of white Americans in the South have little actual knowledge of black people. Wright illustrates this when talking about the overwhelming number of black people incarcerated in Florida and how propaganda stating that the “Negro is naturally trifling, dishonest, low and vicious,” is used to “keep them inferior they must be huddled in segregated ghettos without drainage, light, pavements, or modern sanitary conveniences they must be denied justice and the right to make a decent living. They must be insulted and bullied and mobbed, discriminated against in public places, and denied access to parks and recreational centers (Wright 116).” This yet again illustrates another perspective, and just how to stark a contrast it is to Carter’s passage where the people of Harlem are overlooked or only seen as a pastime in comparison to the dehumanization and degradation Wright describes – except that they’re both describing different sides of the same coin, both groups being marginalized just in different extremes.
The DuBois magazine, The Crisis, and its covers also showcase both visually and in writing the thoughts and concerns of African Americans at the time. To quote Elizabeth Carroll “The Crisis offers a different collective portrait of African Americans and demonstrates that the changing identity of African Americans necessitated changes in American society and the functioning of American institutions (Objectivity and Social Change: Essays and News Stories in Opportunity Anne Elizabeth Carroll, Word, Image, and the New Negro : Representation and Identity in the Harlem Renaissance).” Two covers that exemplify this in relation to the passages mentioned previously are the cover for May of 1920, which featured the portrait of Mattie Flemming by Frank Walts, and the cover for September of 1919 which featured a drawing of soldiers returning back from WWI by Laura Wheeler. Both of these covers show contrasting images – one of affluence and the other of violence and war, and yet on the inside of their covers, both mention lynching and their continued struggle to just achieve the right to vote. The covers are direct parallels of each other and show how affluence and place did not stop the marginalization and mistreatment of black people.
Modernist journals: Crisis. A record of the darker races. vol. 20, no. 1. Modernist Journals | Crisis. A Record of the Darker Races. Vol. 20, No. 1. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://modjourn.org/issue/bdr512980/
Illustration/ Poetry and photography appear to be two different creative forms of art because while one uses words, the other uses images. But they have more in common than one may believe. Photos are good for providing a visual description and getting the viewer to see what the artist has captured, while illustration leads to more room for interpretation and understanding of what the artist was going for.
In Survey Graphic: Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro “The Making of Harlem” by James Weldon Johnson we are able to see how Johnson portrayed this and to answer this question of what creates a place if it isn’t necessarily ownership? is really the people, and the culture how one can create a place by finding people who can connect and relate to the same ideas and want the same outcome. “Harlem is not merely a Negro colony or community, it is a city within a city, the greatest Negro city in the world, It is not a slum or a fringe, it is located in the heart of Manhattan and occupies one of the most beautiful and healthful sections of the city. It is not à “quarter” of dilapidated tenements but is made up of new-law apartments and handsome dwellings, with well-paved and well-lighted streets. It has its own churches, social and civic centers, shops, theatres, and other places of amusement. And it contains more Negroes to the square mile than any other spot on earth.”(Johnson, page 635)
With that in mind, on page 637 there is a picture of a map “This sketch map shows approximately where Negroes live in Harlem, according to a housing survey made in 1024 by the New York Urban League. The fringe of houses in which both Negro and white tenants live is not indicated. The first houses occupied by Negroes were On I34th Street east of Lenox Avenue” I include this picture because it shows Harlem it shows a visual of Harlem and how it a “city within a city” and how much history lies there, how even today walking in some parts of the city their brown street signs instead of green to showcase that (landmarks)
As well in The Crisis covers where there are both photography and illustrations they are realistic since they depict the New Negro in their daily lives, one must both see and read to fully understand what Du Bois was going, for example, to answer the question “How are African Americans or Black people (Negros in the language of the magazine) What makes them American? du Bois show many examples like the Vol. 18, No. 2 (1919-06-01) shows the soldiers go to war ready to fight for their country and stand for it, standing up for America. Also how in Vol. 25, No. 2 (1922-12-01) cover of the magazine, features a photo of a young black woman in a cap and gown with a bright feature ahead. I would say this can make her American by following the “American dream” of getting higher educating and pursuing what comes after like a good job etc
The covers of The Crisis communicate the “normality” as well as the Black perspective about the Black experiences in America because it is a direct parallel of their experiences at the time and their perspective and contributions to the different movements including art, and the first world war it shows or is an example of both the alienation and representation that Black people at this time wished to have and see in media that they didn’t have so that they made for themselves. It is media that showed them as actual humans and people and not racist caricatures (sambo as an example below/ means cartoon).
Like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. mentioned in The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black,
“These two figures bear an antithetical relation to each other, and function in a relation of reversal. Whereas the image of a “New Negro” has served various generations of black intellectuals as a sign of plenitude, of regeneration, of a truly reconstructed presence, the image of the black in what I like to think of as “Sambo Art” has served various generations of racists as a sign of lack, of degeneration, of a truly negated absence. The two sets of figures can also be said to have a certain cause-and-effect relation, with the fiction of a Negro American who is “now” somehow “new” or different from an “Old Negro” generated to counter the image in the popular American imagination of the black as devoid of all the characteristics that separate the lower forms of human life from the supposedly higher forms.” (pgs 130-131)
He explains how this Sambo figure and art that was constructed by white people at the time dehumanized and made Black people no more than a caricature that wasn’t taken seriously or seen as capable of any “real” contributions to society especially intellectually. This is why publications such as The Crisis became popular especially among well educated Black people because it showed to them that they weren’t this caricature and they weren’t a “lower life form” than white people but that could do and contribute the exact same things be it art, media or politics regardless of the color of their skin or what racist cartoon and stereotypes showed. This “new” and “old negro” as the reading mentioned, were direct parallels of each other – the creation of the one caused the creation of the other so that each of these images opposed each other, one seen as part of a distant past and the other as the present and future but only to the people who would put their prejudices aside to see it as such.
The pair of covers from the Crisis that I think represents this best are Vol. 18 no.1 and no.2 which shows a black soldier (1919-01-05) craving the words “loyalty’’ on a plack after fighting in a war for a country that didn’t even want and then in Vol. 18, No. 2 (1919-06-01) shows the soldiers go at war ready to fight